Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Many thanks to Herbert R. Groff, typing volunteer!


Dr. John Cochran, Surgeon General in Washington's Army,
Once Resided Near Palatine Church,
House Still Standing

By S.L. Frey

Near the western boundary of the Town of Palatine, within sight of the old church, and looking across the broad flat lands skirting the Mohawk river stands an old fashioned square house, surrounded by locust trees.

That it has stood there for a long time is evident, but that it was the home of the Surgeon General of the Revolutionary army is probably known to but few.

Those who see it from the car window or who pass it on the highway may give it a transient thought, and wonder who built it, but so few facts are known and so few traditions survive that it is vain to inquire concerning it.

At the beginning of this century, when it became necessary for the purposes of trade and intercourse with the interior, various roads were laid out stretching from Albany, westward toward the great wilderness, the Genesee and Ohio country.

Along these roads when they were opened, numerous villages suddenly sprang into activity and prominence, full of bustle and the promise of great things. Such was Cherry Valley on the western turnpike and Palatine Bridge on the Mohawk.

Here on the mouth of the Garoga Creek, "Fox's Mills" had ground the grain for a wide region, for many years; here stood the oldest stone church of the district of Palatine, with a huge iron triangle for a bell, and this inscription deeply carved in a stone above the door, "Erbauet im Yahr Christi 1770 Den 18 ten Aug".

The charred ruins of farm houses and barns could be seen on all the hills and along the streams, for the country had been again and again raided by the hordes of Johnson and Brant.

But although entirely laid waste, at the return of peace it began to recover from the effects of fire and tomahawk. So that when the Cochran family came here some years previous to 1800, the section seemed to be again prosperous and happy.

Dr. John Cochran was born in Pennsylvania in 1730, and was engaged as a surgeon in the French army. His wife was Gertrude, the only sister of Gen. Philip Schuyler.

At the opening of the Revolution, Dr. Cochran was living in Albany and he was recommended by Washington and appointed by Congress, Surgeon General in the Middle Department. This position he filled with honor till 1781 when he was promoted to be Director General of the Hospitals of the United States.

Thatcher in his Military Journal. April 30th, 1781, says, "I accompanied Dr, John Hart to pay his respects to Dr. John Cochran, who is lately promoted to the office of Director General of the Hospitals of the United States, *** he has the reputation of being an able and experienced practitioner".

At the close of the war Washington appointed him commissioner of loans for the State of New York, and he again resided in Albany, held the office until disabled by paralytic stroke, He then resigned and moved with his family to Palatine, where according to one account he died April 6th, 1807, aged 77 years. Pomeroy Jones however, in his history of Oneida County has the following clipping from some old newspaper, "Died in this village (Utica) in April, 1803, Dr. John Cochran, Director General of the Military Hospitals of the United States in the war of Revolution, aged 79 years".

It appears from the wording of this that it was written some time after the event and therefor that the writer had fallen into an error in some way, and Dr. Cochran died not in Utica but at his home in Palatine.

This is confirmed by Mrs. Margaret Collins of Fonda, widow of the late John F. Collins, 1865-1920 who was an authority on Mohawk Valley history. A careful search of his library reveals only one instance where the death of General Cochran is recorded as elsewhere than in Palatine, All the others fix it at Palatine on April 6, 1807.

Loosing in his documentary history says:

Cochran. John, Physician, Surgeon and General, Born at Chester, Pa. 1730. Father born North of Ireland. Dr. John Cochran as surgeon's mate in French and Indian Wars. Settled in Albany. Married Gertrude Schuyler, only sister of Philip Schuyler, 1777. Served in the war of the Revolution. Washington appointed him Surgeon General of the Middle department in 1781. Later was Director General of Hospitals for the U.S. Died at Palatine April 6, 1807, aged 76.

Dr. Cochran left two sons James and Walter Livingston. They were both graduates from Columbia College, and were both admitted to the bar.

James the elder, attained considerable prominence in his profession, and he was a member of Congress in the year 1797 and 1799. His competitor for the place was Judge Cooper, father of the novelist.

Both James and Walter had commissions in John Adams' standing army. The first was a major and the latter a captain, but when Jefferson came into power in 1800, all Adams' work was overturned, and the Cochrans retired to private life, and came permanently to reside with their father at Palatine Church.

James and a number of young men of the prominent families of the valley had been admitted to practice law at about the same time, but they, being the sons of wealthy men, disliked the drudgery of trying cases in court, and so were in the habit of employing a young fellow graduate of theirs whom they called "Dan" to try the cases for which they paid him a small fee of five or ten dollars.

The consequence of this was that "Dan" soon got the reputation of being a first rate lawyer while Major Cochran and his fellows stood still. He soon became familiar with all the old land grants and patents and titles in New York and no lawyer could equal Daniel Cady in suits where such titles were in question.

Under the direction of Major James the old Cochran home, still standing, was built. He was first married to Eleanor Barclay of Philadelphia who died early. He lived single until 1822 when he married his cousin, Catherine Van Rensselaer Schuyler, widow of Col. Samuel Malcom. She was the youngest daughter of Gen. Philip Schuyler, and was in many respects a remarkable woman. Her life had been full of romance and viscissitudes. She was born in Albany the 30th day of February, 1781 and at her baptism General and Mrs. Washington acted as two of her sponsors. *

In the volume "A Godchild of Washington." by Catherine Schuyler Baxter, the frontispiece reads as follows: "On the parish register of the Reformed Dutch Church in Albany, N.Y., may be seen the following record of baptisms, on March 4th, 1781, by the Rev. Elardus Westerlo:

Ouders (parents) Philip Schuyler, Catherine Van Rensselaer.

Kindern ( Children ), Catherine Van Rensselaer

Getulgen (Witnesses) G. Washington, James Van Rensselaer, Mrs. Washington, Marguerite Schuyler.

The Schuyler house in Albany was quite outside the city, and a plot was concocted to take the General prisoner and rob the house of its valuable silver plate. This was carried into execution August 7th, 1781. The party consisted of Canadians, Tories and Indians. At the first alarm the General rushed upstairs for his arms and the family followed, when it was discovered the most important member of the family, the baby had been left behind. The mother was frantic but Margaret Schuyler, an older sister flew down the stairs and snatching the up the child bore it to a place of safety, but she narrowly escaped the flying tomahawk of a savage which stuck in the baluster. The attempt to kidnap General Schuyler failed, but the party carried away three prisoners and some of the family silver. None of the latter was recovered but the soup tureen was heard of at a dinner in Montreal several years afterwards.

Catherine Schuyler had once (in 1794) with her father passed up the Mohawk Valley and through the wilderness to Oswego. She had seen her vast domain on Crosby's Patent, so that she was not entirely a stranger to it when she came to New Hartford, Oneida County in 1808 as the wife of Samuel Malcom of the Revolution, and who with Aaron Burr raised the first regiment of artillery from this state.

Malcom received with his wife a fortune of $100,000 in money and this magnificent estate of field and forest. He was a lawyer, but spent the most of his time in managing, or mismanaging his wife's estate. So that upon his death about 1815 the property was all gone and the family reduced to poverty.

Mrs. Malcom bore all her misfortune with wonderful patience and resignation. The change to her was very great. Born and reared in affluence, the daughter of the great Schuyler, closely allied to the Van Rensselaers, Van Cortlands and Livingstons, the sister-in-law of Alexander Hamilton, and once the owner of a vast estate in her own right, she was now left a widow and without means.

In 1822 in Utica she married her cousin Major James Cochran, and in 1827, they removed to Oswego.

I remember Mrs, Cochran well. It was in the early Summer of 1857, that I had the pleasure of seeing her in her own home in Oswego, and I was much impressed with the dignity of her appearance, and the grace and courtesy of her manners. The house was small and plain but their remained evidences of the former prosperity of the family in various pieces of furniture and in portraits on the walls. Mrs. Cochran died in August of the same year. She having survived her husband by many years.

Walter Livingston Cochran the second son of Major John Cochran, was also a prominent figure in his day, at the old home in Palatine, in Utica, and in the various places where he afterwards resided. He was a man of distinguished presence and of the most pleasing manners, one who set the table in a roar, with a song or story or melt his audience to tears with his pathos.

As before stated he had held a captains commission in the army, but he resigned. He was also a lawyer but he did not practice his profession, but continued to live at the old home in Palatine until 1812 when he eloped with Miss Cordelia Smith, and sister of Garrett Smith of Peterboro.

It was a love match and the wedding was a hurried one, the pair flying to their Greta Green in a gift gig and tandem team, in such haste that the brides whole trousseau was lost on the road from the single hastily packed portmanteau..

The marriage took place in Johnstown where Daniel Cady lived, Mrs. Cady being the bride's aunt. An eye witness who was in Johnstown at the time, says that the marriage took place without the knowledge or consent of Judge Smith, and that he did not forgive the pair for many years. And that Garret, then about 19 years of age who was present at the wedding, was disinherited by his father but that he was reinstated after a time and the lovers forgiven.

They probably lived at the old house in Palatine until 1817 when the whole Cochran family removed to Utica.

A contemporary describes Mrs. Cochran as a marked character, as much distinguished for her conversational powers as her brother Garret was for his eloquence. About 1825 Captain Cochran was in command of one of the North River steamboats, but his wife dying soon after he removed to Oswego, where he died in 1857 aged 87 years.

The family consisted of eight children of whom John Cochran of New York, Brigadier General in the war of the Rebellion, and late Member of Congress is the oldest.

Some excerpts from a letter received from Gen. Cochran will add interest to those random recollections of the old house.

" * * I regret to say that I am quite barren of the information you desire. I was but an urchin of three or four years old when my father's family removed from Palatine Church to Utica, yet I remember the mansion and vicinage and many events impressed on my childish memory. I recollect my going to school, the name of our family physician, Dr. Webster, the slaves we had and my attendance at the Palatine Church, etc., etc.

I have understood that, as my grandfather, Dr. John Cochran aged, he removed with his family to Palatine. This place was selected, I suppose, because in the vicinity of or adjoining lands, assigned my grandfather as an officer in the Revolutionary army.

The mansion now standing was erected under the superintendence of my uncle, James Cochran. There was standing some years since a small law office, on the place next the highway. In this office my Uncle James and his partner, Phil R. Frey, practiced law. I have before me an open, a souvenir of Phil R. Frey, it is the "Law of Nations" by M. DeVattel. Its title page bears the superscription "Phil R. Frey's also Hendrick Frey's". On the fly leaf I find "Phil R. Frey, Ipsius Liber" in his hand writing (he is said to have written like copper plate) this regulation: "This book is not to be lent out any more."

How it has traveled a devious journey from that day to this and at last found rest and station in my library in New York, I am at a loss to divine. Probably, however, it drifted from the little law office on the Palatine highway, and so onward "on the tide of time",till it found safe haven here in this roaring Port of New York.

The mansion where my father and uncle resided having been built when accommodations for traveler between Albany and Utica were few, was the resort of all their acquaintances who passed up and down the Mohawk. Especially was this so during the war of 1812-1813. Their hospitality was generous and proverbial. General Scott told me that, as he passed to the northern frontier, he stopped with them. Their larder being exhausted they killed for him, he said, the peacock which furnished to his taste a capital dinner.

The period of my father's occupancy clothed the house with many of the characteristics of frontier life, large and lavish expenditure and indiscriminate hospitality. * It certainly is a land mark in the history of the country, to which as I know clung the early recollections of many an octogenarian, who in his early days was its inmate and guest, but now gathered to his fathers.

My father was a noted tandem driver, and owned two noted "Naragansetts." Doubtless some hoary headed swain" if you can find him surviving may tell you even now of Walter Cochran's spanking Naragansett's and of their countryside repute.

In those days long trains of "Canasta" wagons, driven by Yankees and bearing merchandise for the west thronged the highway, and exasperated the Dutch farmers of the Mohawk. Thereupon would ensue furlous battles between the Palatine Dutchmen and the "damned Yankees".

This Philip R. Frey, spoken of by General Cochran was the only son of Col. Hendrick Frey. Though but a lad at the time of the Revolutionary troubles he was arrested on suspicion of being a loyalist, and confined in the jail at Johnstown from which he made his escape in a very perilous and romantic way, being assisted through the wilderness to Niagara by Molly Brant and other Mohawk Indians. He became a lieutenant in the "8th of Kingsown" and was at Oriskany battle, afterwards going with his regiment to Detroit where he married Marie Louise St. Martin, a niece of General Montcalm. As a United Empire Loyalist he was entitled to a large body of land in Canada but he returned after the war to his native valley and practiced law at Palatine Church as mentioned by General Cochran. There is no evidence that he was hated or suspected on account of his course in the war, but there can be no doubt that the feeling was very bitter against Tories in general and particularly those who had taken part in those numerous raids that had wasted the Mohawk Valley.

And so it was not to be wondered at that there were mutterings of wrath when it was learned in March, 1792 that Joseph Brant had been invited to a conference with the government at Philadelphia and that he had left Niagara for that city, via the Mohawk Valley, to visit his old home and to look upon the land that he had wasted so ruthlessly with fire and tomahawk.

In due time he came accompanied by two gentlemen and attended by two body servants of his own, and, as the home of the Cochrans stood out a few miles from Brant's old home at Indian Castle*, he was invited by Major John Cochran to pass the night.

As soon as this became known a mob gathered and there was danger that he would be dealt with a very summary manner and it became necessary to spirit him away in the darkness to some other place. But he pursued his journey the next day and arrived safely in Philadelphia, altho he was followed as far as New York by a man who vowed to take his life.


*This was the Castle of the Canajoharees laid down in Sauteir's map.

Many articles of furniture in the Cochran house, consisting principally of mahogany were received from General Washington from his headquarters in Newburg as "a gift to my friend General Cochran".

The following lines from Goldsmith convey in a few brief stanzas the spirit of the Cochran House in its golden days of hospitality when the new republic was just breaking the chrysalls of old world and colonial custom and when the traveler was still welcomed as the bearer of good tidings and honored accordingly.

Blest be that spot, where cheerful guests retire
To pause from toil, and trim their evening fire;
Blest that abode, where want and pain repair,
And every stranger finds a ready chair;
Blest be those feasts with simple plenty crowned,
Where all the ruddy family around
Laugh at the jests or pranks that never fail,
Or sigh with pity at some mournful tale;
Or press the bashful stranger to his food,
And learn the luxury of doing good. -The Traveler.

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